With the 7th month of 2015 no amongst us, we can pretty much say that 2015 has hit its periodic peak and now it is the steady journey that will see us through 2015. For this weeks New Borns we have 2 bands that have not only been in the game of music before many of writers were even thought about! We speak of Wilco, and their 9th studio album and Public Enemy, with their 13th album. Both albums were nicely received by our writers, while Jerome, who writes from Reunion Island, spent the week listening to yet another band from the brilliant Domino Records labels, who support the sounds of Ducktails. Take a read, grab a listen and we hope you enjoy.
Album Title Star Wars
Label dBPM Records USA
Genre (Very) Alternative Country
Moments Of Radiohead, Built To Spill, The Church, The Beatles
Stand Outs EKG, More…, Random Name Generator, Cold Slope
The Chicago-based six-piece Wilco celebrated 20 years in music 12 months ago, and dropped ninth studio run “Star Wars” on an unsuspecting public via their website. Radiohead-style. Entirely for free. Led by guitarist Jeff Tweedy, the band remains, arguably, just that. America’s Radiohead. If Radiohead was fronted by Neil Young and musically directed by Doug Martsch from Idaho indie rock legends Built To Spill.
Wilco’s “Star Wars” is almost an exercise in winking directly at an audience. Just for fun. Because they can. What you get are 11 tracks squeezed into just 33 minutes. And this from a band that’s constructed double-LP epics in its career.
Sit back, relax, and let this set of tunes rattle by your ears. For those unfamiliar, the line-up (which has remained stable over the past decade) contains frontman and guitarist Jeff Tweedy with John Stirratt (bass), Glenn Kotche (drums), Mike Jorgensen (keyboards), Nels Cline (guitar) and Pat Sansone (keyboards, guitar). And boy, can they create a delightfully dense din when they want to.
The brief album lopes along in a sludgy manner courtesy of the deliberately grungy guitar work, yet holds tight courtesy of the rhythm section and Tweedy’s voice, which floats across the distorted six-string undertow.
Opening hat-trick “EKG”, “More…” and “Random Name Generator” set the tone with that unmistakeable Wilco buzz. During the latter Tweedy says “I belong to the stars in the sky” for some reason and you believe him. Because it rocks. Pure, plain and simple. Tweedy continues in vaguely poetic style: “I want the name of a newborn child…a miracle once in a while.”
Strangely, the longest piece here, five-minute “You Satellite” comes off as something of a leaden mis-step amid all the punk-pace frivolity. This may be familiar Wilco territory but here it genuinely feels out of place. And slows an otherwise storming studio session. In fact, take it out and you’d have 10 tracks running to 28 minutes.
The rollercoaster ride resumes with the Beatles-esque shuffle and slide of “Taste The Ceiling” before the big-hair fuzzy-ness arrives on “Pickled Ginger”. Guitar feeds back in spurts at either end of the stereo headphones as Tweedy yells “no-one gives a zig-zag!” Yee-haw.
Oddly, if feels as if the whole album does decrease somewhat in expressive intent as it goes along. Aside from choppy riff workout “Cold Slope”, the finishing line isn’t as high-tempo as you’d expect (or hope). But Tweedy maintains that every part of any album has its proper place for a reason. He told London’s Guardian last year how much he still loves complete albums in an age of individual track downloads.
“Whenever the so-called experts say the album is dying as a format, I think: ‘since when have we
listened to so-called experts?’ Are video games killing chess as well?”
As was this.
“If you’ve got a 12-inch album with a picture of somebody’s head on it, it’s the same size as your head. You can sit it up and talk to it.”
Or, in the case of Wilco’s own present-day imagery, the same size as a large ragdoll kitten. Presumably you could equally perch that somewhere and try conversing in meow-speak.
Impressively, out on tour so far this year, the band’s playing the entire record as the first half of their live set. In order. Also just for fun. Also just because they can.
Album Title Man Plans God Laughs
Label Spit Digital
Moments Of Ice T, RUN –D.M.C, Beastie Boys
Stand Out Give Peace A Damn, Mine Again
Public Enemy hardly needs any kind of introduction. Releasing their 13th studio album, Man Plans God Laughs, continues to put politics and racial discrimination right in their cross hairs. Never valuing amberguity, Public Enemy lets you know exactly how they feel about the world of today and what they want from it. Filled with stories of self-respect, determination and the struggle to stand tall in a world of adversity. This album comes from an extremely personal place.
Never flinching from scathing depictions of the brutal realities one faces as an African American, Public Enemy have produced another politically driven, culturally relevant piece. The motif at the heart of Man Plans God Laughs is the call for unity and spiritual integrity within the black community in the fight for dignity and respect. A slight divergence from their more aggressive work of the past that focused on ‘waking those that face oppression into action’.
The climate surrounding race in America fuels their work, throwing themselves behind the #BlackLivesMatter campaign but Those Who Know Know Who, Give Peace A Damn and Honkey Tonk Rules also steer into areas of environmentalism, mass media and the hysteria they induce along with the white washing of both history and cultural movements.
Significant time is put into paying tribute to the ‘motherland’ Africa. The poverty and desecration of her natural resources for the benefit of the western world are expressed with torturous imagery in ‘Mine Again’. While accusatory by nature a deep feeling of connection and love for their ancestral home is at the roots of this song.
While anger, confrontation and outright aggression have always been an identifiable element to Public Enemy’s performance, this album feels more concise- lyrically speaking- than confrontational. A certain sense of exhaustion is noticeable in their work. Chuck D even goes so far to rap ‘you 22, 33 I’m 55’ noting how long they’ve been at this game for. Making you painfully aware how far we still have to go.
While their stories are powerful, in your face and unforgiving Man Plans God Laughs perhaps exposes the passing of time. Still rife with delicious beats, creepy synth, funk and even tones of jazz can be found within in this album. Yet nothing feels innovative, nothing in the instrumental arrangement feels as if it’s keeping up the pace. The moments that stand out are always nostalgic throwbacks to their prime rather than creative modern works.
Perhaps this is too much to ask for a group that has been around for over 30 years. Especially when they have accomplished so much already. This is undoubtedly still an album to enjoy but considering the rise of politically minded black artists of today, perhaps it’s time for another generation to take the lead.
Despite the somewhat uninspired musical workings of Man Plans God Laughs, it is rather telling that a group of black artists are still creating politically relevant works for the youth of today three decades after their inception. Put this album on your to do list and hear what they have to say as their message is still as poignant now as it ever was even if the execution lacks the teeth it once had.
Album Title St Catherine
Label Domino Records
Genre pop , psychedelic pop
Moments Of Elliott Smith
Stand Out Into The Sky , The Laughing Woman
Formed in New Jersey in 2006, Ducktails, led by its guitarist Matt Mondanile released this month their new album St. Catherine . The american group hit the road of the psychedelic pop again for an album that left me with quiet a weird feeling. Between good pop passage and other more “trippy” times , St. Catherine divided me.
Projected out of their anonymity in 2009 with the release of their self-titled debut album (under the Not Not Fun label), the Americans have made their way in the past six years. For 4 years no less than four albums (under different labels every time) and now this new opus, St. Catherine, which responds to their The Flower Lane , released in 2013. The whole album exudes sound of the 80s (notably with the guitars)and , for me, can be divided into two different style: on one side there are classic pop songs, original and very efficient, composed with a battery-guitar-base. On the other side, there are these pop songs composed with great instrumental variance, weird rhythm, « trippy » layers, songs that could be easily assimilated to psychedelic pop.
The album opens with The Disney Afternoon, an instrumental song that, as an musical introduction, announces directly the artistic direction took by the group: It is very pop and there is a psychedelic side ! No doubt about that. This is at the third piece that the trippy side of the sound starts to fade, giving way to more traditional pop song. While these “classic”pop song convinced me of the talent of this young group, the addition of these psychedelic atmosphere have quickly appeared to me poorly controlled , rushed, overpriced, especially during the instrumental songs (too many in my taste). I think the (really gentle) Pop / 80s signature / psychedelic sound mixture just did not take.
The album, however, is also full of very good pop « Elliott Smith like »songs (Into The Sky, The Laughing Woman). This is the other ones, which have highlighted too much the trippy / psychedelic side of the group instead of its sensitivity, which I find are much less successful. Perhaps the psychedelic side of music has no place in pop, too nice and too soft? or perhaps the atmosphere release here is too gentle ?
St. Catherine made me very uneven overall opinion . I’ve found the pop songs very successful while the psy/trip/weard side was quickly tiring, overplay and not convincing! Uneven album that seems to me very well, but only after a few selections of its pop pearls.